Synopsis: When a desperate patient unexpectedly shows up at the home of a widowed therapist and his two daughters seeking help, he leaves behind a terrifying supernatural entity that preys on families and feeds on the suffering of its victims.
Stars: Sophie Thatcher, Chris Messina, Vivian Lyra Blair, Marin Ireland, Madison Hu, LisaGay Hamilton, David Dastmalchian
Director: Rob Savage
Running Length: 98 minutes
TMMM Score: (1/10)
Review: Originally published in 1973 as a short story in an innocuous magazine, Stephen King’s ‘The Boogeyman’ is more prominently known to readers as a selection in King’s 1978 short story collection, ‘Night Shift’. That first amassing of King’s tiny terrors holds some mighty famous doozies which would go on to inspire film adaptations that ranged from the spooky (‘Jerusalem’s Lot’ became the 1978 TV movie Salem’s Lot, a remake is finished and waiting on a release date) to the silly (King himself would adapt ‘Trucks’ into infamous turkey Maximum Overdrive in 1986) to the freaky (1984’s Children of the Corn) to the icky (1990’s Graveyard Shift…those rats!). A solid story produced the one genuinely good movie; strangely, it is often the least mentioned, 1991’s Sometimes They Come Back.
It would have been great to report that The Boogeyman is as scary as the preview makes it out to be, a balm for King fans that have suffered countless inequities with lame adaptations of the author’s work. I was encouraged by early reports that test screenings had gone so well that 20th Century Studios and Hulu scrapped plans for a direct-to-streaming debut and opted for an exclusive theatrical release. Sadly, with its patchwork script and frequent lapses in common sense, The Boogeyman leaves audiences aimlessly wandering in the darkness as much as it does its characters. Meeting its quota for jump scares and only just, it’s a cash-gobbling theater filler for a studio and filmmakers that can do much better.
In fairness, calling King’s original story flimsy is putting it mildly. Written during a time when King favored ugly words spat out by backward people, it’s the kind of tale you read now and wonder when the author will get to the inevitable point. How it took three respectable screenwriters, Scott Beck (A Quiet Place), Bryan Woods (Haunt), and Mark Heyman (The Skeleton Twins), to come up with such a pithy story to wrap around King’s initial treatment is mystifying. There’s so little happening (or explained) in the final project that it’s…frightening.
The Harper family has suffered a terrible loss and is struggling to put the pieces of their life back together. Dad Will (Chris Messina, I Care a Lot) is a therapist seeing patients out of his home, doing work for them that he ignores for himself. Teenager Sadie (Sophie Thatcher, Yellowjackets) is finally ready to return to school and face her (incredibly b***hy) classmates, another hurdle in a long healing journey. At the same time, her younger sister Sawyer (Vivien Lyra Blair) prefers to sleep with an array of lights on in her bedroom. Little hints are sprinkled initially, but it honestly takes a solid twenty minutes for the script to reveal their mother was killed in an accident (I’m guessing car, but the way Messina drives with his back facing oncoming traffic, he’s clearly not attentive to the rules of the road) and even then, the mother barely functions as a character. However, she factors heavily into the emotional beats of the plot.
As if this grief wasn’t enough, in walks Lester Billings (David Dastmalchian, The Suicide Squad) to see Will for an emergency session. (This entire sequence makes up the source short story.) During their time, Lester tells Will of an evil that infiltrated his family, with a horrible fate that took his children. Disturbed by Lester’s behavior, Will leaves to “use the bathroom” (code for call the cops) and, in doing so, lets the man wander freely around the house. Will doesn’t know that Sophie has returned early from school after a disastrous first day and will face Lester, setting off a wicked chain of events that unleashes a similar lurking danger in the Harper house. At first targeting Sawyer before turning its attention to Sophie, the sisters must work together to beat back a creature that feeds on grief too raw to shake entirely.
I’m not dismissing that there’s a nugget of good story here. Evil that feeds on unbridled emotion (especially in children who often cannot control it) is a frequent theme in King’s work. With a more sophisticated production, The Boogeyman could have been something special. In the hands of its adaptors, it’s a confusing blob of scenes that don’t align with what came before. It’s as if each of the three writers took an assigned number of sequences and just mashed them all in a lump without cross-checking with one another what’s happening. That’s why you’ll have three people in one house being attacked by a creature, but no one hearing their family member is in trouble or coming to their aid. Multiple times throughout the film, Sophie or Sawyer screams a high-pitched wail, and Will is nowhere to be found. Where has Will vanished to? Often the scariest thing in the film is realizing the girls are left alone so often during an increasingly violent period. It’s obvious there’s been late-stage editing done to tone down parts of the movie to get it to its assigned PG-13 rating. So not only is it rarely scary, but there’s also little bang for your buck in the way of a typical horror payoff.
Director Rob Savage was responsible for one of the best pandemic projects, the terrifying Zoom marvel Host (as well as the creepy 2021 Dashcam), so it’s surprising his name is on such nonsense. His talent for well-timed jump scares and its jittery aftershock is evident, but it’s the time between those ingenious moments when the film is just the absolute pits. It doesn’t help matters the actors look as confused as the script…when we can see them, of course. For a movie about a creature that hunts in the darkness, it becomes enormously funny that characters who know the rules will willingly walk by light switches and lamps without flipping them on or, at the very least, using their cell phone.
Ending with an Elvis Presley music cue that is the most foolishly on-the-nose needle drop I’ve ever heard is simply the sour cherry on top of this sloppy sundae of a film. The Boogeyman is one of the worst Stephen King adaptations audiences have been treated to, a mostly scare-less drag that’s been smartly marketed as a terror-filled nailbiter. Save your money and gnaw your nails at one of the classic King novels that have received the big screen treatment.